Former champ AJ McKee discusses ‘complete mental breakdown’ after loss to Patricio Pitbull at Bellator 277
AJ McKee’s perfect record wasn’t the only thing that fell apart at Bellator 277. McKee’s loss to Patricio Pitbull in their rematch was immediately followed by a fierce battle with his sanity.
Many in the industry had begun speculating that Bellator MMA could wield the best active featherweight fighter on the planet amid its 2019-2021 World Featherweight Grand Prix. A homegrown talent who made his professional debut with the promotion in 2015, McKee had amassed a perfect 18-0 career run. The hype was validated with a first-round finish of Pitbull, a concurrent two-division champion who was four fights away from stopping Michael Chandler at lightweight.
But McKee had even bigger dreams and desires after the Grand Prix victory. He wanted to match Pitbull’s run by winning a Second Division title as well. But those ambitions were derailed when he dropped a unanimous decision to Pitbull in their April rematch, sending the 27-year-old on a downward spiral.
“It was a lot to lose,” McKee told “Morning Kombat” hosts Brian Campbell and Luke Thomas. “Bouncing back was my key. It’s really fueling the fire now. I’m hungrier than ever. Focusing again on getting my first title. I have statements to make… It was a complete mental Un meltdown, a mental breakdown. One thing I’ve always done, no matter where I’m at in life, is go to that gym. It’s my safe space in the gym.
“I started to lose it. Literally, I went through a lot mentally. I really didn’t have anyone to talk to. I wasn’t going to tell anyone I was in pain or struggling… My dad is Antonio McKee. He’s the kind of guy who goes, ‘Hey, get up p—-. Why are you crying?'”
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Prior to the Bellator Featherweight Grand Prix, McKee predicted four straight finishes. He achieved this by stopping Georgi Karakhanyan, Derek Campos, Darrion Caldwell and Pitbull. As a result, McKee — who had wanted to face Pitbull at lightweight and wasn’t motivated by the featherweight rematch — felt it was Pitbull’s obligation to make a statement in their rematch.
“I felt he had to come to me. He had to beat me in this fight,” McKee said. “I wanted to see what he had to offer. I should have realized quickly that he had nothing to offer. Instead of playing up close, I was relaxed. The thing with me is that if I sign the contract I show up to fight no matter what my mental state no matter if I’m hurt I’m gonna go out there and do my best I knew going into this fight even at my worst day he couldn’t beat I felt it was honestly one of my worst days.
McKee insists he will be a career lightweight going forward. After walking around as heavy as 185 pounds, the former featherweight champion is aware of the long-term consequences of cutting down to 145 pounds. McKee will make an exception only to close his featherweight saga with Pitbull.
“I’ve been 145 all my career. I know I’m big enough to hang on and go out there and put my skills forward and come out on top with the 155lbs as well. That being said, I just want to be more faster, bigger and stronger. I have struggled all my life, I have lost weight all my life.
“It’s not necessary to put my body and my family to the test. It’s a lot to make me weigh 145 pounds. Obviously, it’s doable, it’s great. But why put that stress on yourself if this “Isn’t it necessary? You have the skills, you have the talent to do it at multiple weights. But to make a statement and to end this trilogy, yes, I would do it one last time.”
McKee will make his lightweight debut at Bellator 286 against former UFC Spike Carlyle. Their fight takes place at the Long Beach Arena in California on October 1 on a card titled Pitbull vs. Adam Borics.